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Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God)
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Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or UnorthodoxGrey Zone, Unsure, or Offkey Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus

Universal Church of the Kingdom of God
aka ''Stop Suffering''

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Controverial movement, based in Brazil. The movement also uses the name ''Stop Suffering.'' Promotes word-faith teachings, with a particular emphasis on the seed-faith doctrine. Since its theology and practices are far outside those of normal, biblical Christianity, this movement is considered to be a cult of Christianity.

Believers are promised healing and riches - for a price. The more one gives, the more miracles one will reap, The Post heard preachers say in church branches in four boroughs.

''Give $500, $100, $50,'' a Brooklyn bishop pleaded recently in a branch in a converted movie house on Fourth Avenue in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. ''When you give freely, you will prosper.''

In Woodside, Queens, a pastor bellows out to his followers: ''Unless you give, you cannot be blessed.''

Regina Cerveira, the Universal Church's chancellor and spiritual administrator in New York, insists that a higher donation doesn't buy a better blessing.

''A person who gives $500 is not going to get more blessings than someone who just gives $100.''

But ex-pastor Mario Justino said that during a decade of preaching for the Universal Church in Brazil, Portugal and Brooklyn, his superiors instructed him to ''tell the people, 'If you don't give, God does not look at your problems.'''
Holy-roller church cashes in on faithful, New York Post, July 23, 2000

It claims to offer protection from black magic and attracts millions of followers. But the murder of Anna Climbie - in one of Britain's worst ever cases of child abuse - has raised troubling questions about the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.
(...)

The Universal Church has already got into trouble over its claim that evil spirits are the cause of people's woes. In 1997, the Advertising Standards Authority banned a church poster that said: ''Constant headaches, depression, insomnia, fears, bad luck, strange diseases . . . These are just a few symptoms caused by demons.''

But now the deliverance service has dragged the church into its darkest controversy yet. It was to one of these services that eight-year-old Anna Climbie, the little girl who died of hypothermia after being tied up in a bathtub in one of Britain's worst ever cases of child abuse, was to have been taken by her adoptive mother, Marie Kouao.
[...more...]
The exorcists, The Guardian (England), Jan. 15, 2001

Belgian Parliamentary Report

This information is translated from a report given to the Belgium Parliament by Mr. Duquesne and Mr. Willems, on behalf of an independent research committee. The report, delivered on April 28, 1997, is titled:

Parliamentary Inquiry for the purpose of establishing policy in combatting unlawful practices of sects and of the dangers of such for the community and individuals, especially adolescents.

-313 /7 -95 /96

The translation is from part I, section III:

Information provided at closed-session hearings (usually by members, ex-members or their families).

===Start Unofficial Translation===
14) Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD)

This Brazilian organization was founded in 1977 by Edir Macedo, a former lottery worker in Rio de Janeiro, who elected himself bishop and now lives in the United States. This church is said to have been born out of the Pentecostal movement. It has the name "Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (IURD)" The church claims that the Kingdom of God is here on earth and that it can offer a solution for all manner of ills, depressions, joblessness, family- and financial problems. However, it turns out this is an authentic crime organization whose only goals is to enrich itself. This is an extreme form of religious merchandizing.

This church recently established itself in Antwerp, the first two years in Hotel Prince. For the past year it has been renting space from cinema Rubens at 200 000 frank a month.

Every Sunday a meeting takes place at which "blessed" envelopes are handed to the members, based on what it is they want to ask from God. Next they are asked to put a donation into the envelope that is comparable to the worth of their wish (a new car, to be saved from a sorrowful situation, and to find work).

Rates are set for each of such issues, ostensibly based on the Bible. The leaders of the church take the envelopes to Israel, the Holy Land, where they claim to pray for their followers. However, upon their return they report they have no firm results. Therefore new "blessed" envelopes are handed out to the members, with the request for an additional gift.

A few weeks back, they started to use a new kind of envelope. For a basic gift of 1 000 Belgian franks large sums of money or a villa are promised. In fact, this is a large-scale con-job.

According to sources, over the past 20 years Macedo has built up a fortune of some $100 million. The leaders of the church have a luxurious lifestyle (yachts, international travel with stays in luxurious hotels, parties...). In Belgium at present in Belgium there are only about 20 members. These are mostly colored women from Portugese-speaking countries.

The church also has an address in Brussel, Chaussee de Charleroi 236, but the organization is officially seated in Luxembourg under the name "Communauté chrétienne du Saint-Esprit."

The church has many supporters in Brazil. In 1986 it managed to bring together 250 000 people in football stadium Maracana. They were asked to donate money, as well as to take off their glasses because glasses were said to be of the devil... The leaders of this movement also claim to be able to heal aids.

In Brazil, the church recruits mainly among common people - the ones that are down and out, have no work, are homeless and do not have much education. The number of followers in Brazil has diminished from 3 to 2 million.

The IURD own 2 000 temples, 22 radio stations and 16 television stations. One of them is said to have been bought with money from the Columbian maffia. The church also has influence with newspapers and other publications, and even founded a bank: "Banco Credito Metropolitano." However, the bank has many problems with the central bank, which has reported 213 incidents for which the bank was fined 13 million real (1 real = 33 Belgian franks). The bank is said to be facing bankruptcy.

The IURD spreads its propaganda mainly via radio and TV (partly due to the high number of illiterates in Brazil), and is aggressively opposed to other Christian movements which it portrays as manifestations of the devil.

Seven members of the Brazilian parliament and countless elected officials in state-parliaments belong to the church. The church asked members to contribute 10% of their income. It is said that within the organization there are a number of sex scandals.

The organization is present throughout the world: Los Angeles, New York, Manila, Tokyo. It is also active in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, and France, where it publishes the magazine "Tibune Universelle." In France a complaint was filed over the suicide of a young recruit from Martinique who had donated 40 000 Belgian franks in order to find a job in Paris. His attempts were fruitless.

The leaders of the IURD are also said to be involved in drugs- and weapon trade via Paraguay and Portugal. Though the activities of the IURD in Belgium are marginal, the witness notes that de church has elected to based itself near the big international ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam.

The church's activities in Belgium, subsidized by the Brazilian organization, could be a cover for illegal activities. The presence of the IURD in Luxembourg could be an indication that the organization also is involved in whitewashing money.
===End Unofficial Translation===

The report, in French and Dutch, is available in its entirety online.

The text of the Parliamentary motion based on this report is available offline only. It can be ordered from:

   Dienst Algemene Zaken - Kamer     B - 1008 Brussel
   tel. : (32) 2 549 81 95
   fax : (32) 2 549 88 00
   e-mail : Quaestuur@deKamer.be

Ask for "motion 313/9."

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''We are like an omelet. The more they beat us, the more we grow.'' Perhaps Edna Fernandes has found the best explanation for the incredible growth of the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus not only in Brazil but in 46 other countries. Fernandes, a São Paulo assemblywoman, is the sister of Edir Macedo, the self-appointed bishop of Universal and the man who in less than two decades has transformed a little sect, gathering in a place used as a funeral parlor, in the biggest Brazilian franchise all over the word.

His enemies say bishop Edir Macedo's dream is to convert Brazil into a religious state, a kind of new Iran in which he would be its all-powerful ayatollah. Carlos Magno de Miranda, an ex-coordinator of the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), says his former boss and mentor wants one day to be Brazil's President. Macedo, who rarely gives any interview, denied recently any political ambition to newsweekly Isto É. ''God has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor in spirit, to free those oppressed by Satan and to announce the pardon of Jesus Christ,'' he answered to a question sent by fax by the magazine.
(...)

Every pin means a new church in his empire, which by last count had more than 2,000 temples in 46 countries. Three hundred of these prayer houses are outside Brazil. Precise numbers are hard to gather due to secrecy and the rapid spread of the church. The Igreja Universal started its foreign expansionism in 1985 when the first temple was opened in Paraguay, a country on Brazil's southwestern border. Another Brazilian church, Deus É Amor, has already spread to 30 other countries, but the 33-year old church has had a steady and slow expansion, nothing that compares to the Universal's boom. By 1990 the church was established in all Brazilian states and had added temples in Argentina, Portugal and the United States. In a same Sunday in September the Igreja Universal assembled 50,000 people in Johannesburg, South Africa, for a session of exorcism and close to 6,000 in New York for a celebration called Domingo dos Milagres (Sunday of Miracles). The Universal church, whose headquarters is a former movie theater in Brás, a working-class neighborhood next to downtown São Paulo, is only one among dozens of other Brazilian churches which were inspired by Pentecostalism, the evangelical branch of Christianity that centers its faith on the power of the Holy Spirit. In addition to the theatrics of their worship with ''miracle cures'', exorcisms and personal accounts of the church's effectiveness, the Igreja Universal offers cure and solution for any kind of problem, be it financial, sentimental, or health. ''Jesus Christ is the solution'' is the pastors' answer to afflictions as diverse as depression, vices, unemployment, family disharmony, insomnia and headaches. They even promise to cure AIDS and homosexuality.

With close to 6 million believers all over the world and an estimated $1 billion annual income, the Igreja Universal has become the biggest Brazilian multinational, employing around 40 bishops and more than 7,000 pastors. The Church owns TV Record, a traditional Brazilian television network that they had bought in 1990 for $45 million.
(...)

The Igreja Universal also owns 30 radio stations in Brazil, four in Portugal, one in Mozambique and several publications including the national weekly newspaper Folha Universal, which prints 1 million copies, and US-based Universal News, with more than 100,000 copies. All of this is administered by LM Consultoria, a holding company. The church also owns Banco de Crédito Metropolitano, a smaller bank. Among many of the church's plans, there is the publication of a national mass-circulation daily.

The success of Edir Macedo, 50, an ex-public servant who started two college courses (studying Mathematics and Statistics) without finishing them, has a lot to do with his ability to use the media in his favor. The Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus has been promising miracles and cures even for AIDS, but the biggest miracle of all has been how fast the church has grown. It was in 1977 that Macedo and four other friends transformed an old funerary house in Abolição, a suburb on the Northern side of Rio, into the first temple of the incipient evangelical multinational.
(...)

Macedo was 20, when disenchanted with the Catholic church he became an evangelical, joining the Igreja Nova Vida (New Life Church). He would stay 10 years with the congregation before leaving it in 1975, accusing the church of elitism. In Casa da Bênção (Blessed House), the new church he had joined, the restless maverick was advised to start his own religious movement. So, Macedo and a small group of friends created the Cruzada do Caminho Eterno (The Eternal Road Crusade), an aggressive bunch of people brandishing bibles on public squares and preaching in rented movie theaters. Once again he didn't agree with what was being done and started his Igreja Universal.

For many years nobody besides his followers was paying any attention to this evangelical minister. To the dominant Catholic church and the complacent Brazilian media he seemed just like one more fanatic among hundreds who profited from the public ignorance, poverty and suffering to start a new sect and make some money for themselves in the process. But all of this changed since Macedo showed his lack of compromise with the powers that be and the more established churches.

He put some fear in the hearts and pockets of the establishment when he started buying radio stations, theaters and supermarkets to put them in the service of his church. The acquisition of TV Record network in 1990 was a watershed showing he was serious about getting bigger and more legitimate. The Igreja Universal has also made serious incursions into the middle class, recruiting doctors, economists, lawyers and business owners. This made life much harder for Macedo, the minister who had by now given himself the title of bishop. Where had his money come from? The media started to ask questions. The police got involved. He was accused of fraud and embezzlement, and in 1992 ended up in jail for 12 days. The courts have found him innocent every time there was a process against him.

Even today the Universal is not the biggest evangelical church in Brazil. The Assembléia de Deus (Assembly of God), for example, has 13 million followers and the Congregação Cristã do Brasil (Brazil's Christian Congregation) and the Igreja Luterana (Lutheran Church) have 4 million apiece. Some evangelicals, however, are trying to distance themselves from Macedo. The Associação Evangélica Brasileira (Brazilian Evangelical Association) led by Presbyterian Caio Fábio D'Araújo Filho has been in the forefront of this movement, accusing the bishop of using manipulative methods to get money. The Igreja Universal has allied itself to a branch of the Assembly of God to start its own evangelical organization, the Conselho Nacional dos Pastores do Brasil (National Council of Brazil's Pastors). D'Araújo contends that Macedo's church has ''no legitimacy to represent the diversity of the Evangelical Church.''

If the church's finances are kept under seven veils, the philosophy behind Universal's growth has been amply explained. Macedo himself is the author of 14 books, all published by Gráfica Universal which belongs to the church. There the bishop explains how bad company can compromise redemption: ''Look for friendship among people who have the same faith and avoid at any cost talk, discussions or contacts which can jeopardize your salvation.'' He also talks about the presence of the devil: ''There are some diseases that characterize possession (by the devil): neurosis, constant headaches, insomnia, fear, faint or attacks; suicidal wishes, diseases whose causes are not discovered by doctors, vision of shadows and voice auditions, vices, depression.''

But it's about the graces bestowed upon those who part with their money as a contribution to the church that Macedo is more eloquent. ''Don't lose your chance to be God's partner. Be at His disposal with all that you own and start to participate too in all that God has.'' He also writes, ''Money is a sacred tool used in God's work.'' Or, ''To give the tithe is to be a candidate to receive ceaseless blessings, according to what the Bible says, under the physical, spiritual and financial aspects... When we pay God the tithe, He has the obligation (because he promised) to keep His word, reproaching the devouring spirits which disgrace man's life.''

''If we want a better salary,'' he also says, ''we have to tell God, 'Lord , I'd like a salary of x dollars a month.' If my wish is to get a new car, then I have to ask for a new car, and tell its make. And so on. We need to know how to ask in order to be able to receive.''
(...)

While most other religions draw believers, promising a better life after death in exchange for sacrifice and a life of moderation, the Igreja Universal believes the rewards of the faithful will be given here on earth. More than that, new temples are only opened after the area and the customs of a proposed new place are studied. That's what happened, for example, earlier this year, in the Dominican Republic. A group of ministers went there beforehand and not only decided that the temple should be opened in the capital Santo Domingo, but also that some elements of Umbanda (cult with African influences) should be included. Curiously, in Brazil, Umbanda has been condemned constantly by the church.

Macedo and his ministers seem also decided to fill any void left by the other religions. If Catholics have dry and emotionless worship services, they invite participation, making people talk about their experiences of knowing Jesus during the worship, sing, raise their arms, cry, applaud and even have their demons expelled in dramatic and cathartic ceremonies in front of the whole congregation. As another way to fight Catholicism, the temples are being used to distribute condoms among the believers.

It's on the social front, however, that the Igreja Universal is successfully striving for legitimacy. Their ministers have been seen on Rio's hills distributing food among favelados (shanty-town dwellers) and ABC (Associação Beneficente Cristã (Christian Beneficent Association), a Universal creation, has been one of the most active groups helping those in need. Since October of last year, their campaign against hunger has distributed only in São Paulo more than 1.5 tons of food.

Since 1992 the church has been helping, with at least $15,000 a month, São Paulo's Sociedade Pestalozzi, a traditional institution which takes care of 280 mentally handicapped children who spend the day at the organization. The institution helps another 2,000 handicapped youngsters every year. The Igreja Universal has also opened a health clinic in the south area of São Paulo in conjunction with a neighborhood association. Their main work there will be family planning and distribution of contraceptives. ''If the state doesn't do it, we will do our own campaign of family planning,'' says pastor Ronaldo Didini, ABC's director and one of the star presenters at TV Record. The clinic has already seen more than 11,000 people. Some of the doctors working there are volunteers and are not affiliated to the church. The idea is to open a new health clinic every three or four months. Other social initiatives include a plan to recuperate public schools abandoned by the state and the administration of soup kitchens and night shelters in downtown São Paulo. In one of these projects, with capacity for 400 people, City Hall will pay the salary of the 38 workers. ABC will be in charge of distributing food and clothes as well as providing medical and dental care.
(...)

While the rest of the world has seemed to be in a recessionary mode for years, the Igreja Universal doesn't lack money to spend. Be it the One Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles, which had been a jewel of the Hollywood golden era, frequented by, among others, Charles Chaplin. Likewise the traditional Coliseu, and main show theater in Porto, Portugal, which was bought for $6.5 million or the London's Brixton Academy concert hall. All of these purchases have provoked protests in the countries where they happened.

Of Universal's nine US temples, five are in New York; one in Newark, New Jersey; two in Miami and one in Los Angeles. The group is known in the United States as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. For half an hour every day Edir Macedo presents a program on Telemundo, a Spanish-speaking cable TV network. It' s estimated that the church has 8,000 members only in New York. In a Brooklyn neighborhood church, for example, most of the faithful are Hispanic, the same as in LA.

Macedo himself explains all this activity by saying, ''The church is like a moving bicycle: if it stops, it falls down.'' The church seems unstoppable. There are plans to start a mission in Russia and to conquer the whole of Asia since Japan has already a temple, and the Philippines seven. Only this year has the Igreja Universal stretched its reach to include England, Luxembourg, India, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi and Congo. In Africa the growth has been staggering. In only one day 3,000 believers have been recently baptized in Mozambique (a former Portugal colony). Ministers have been in France learning the language in order to spread open the Universal to French-speaking African countries.

Macedo has no special place or privileges in the church's hierarchy.
(...)

A pastor has an average salary of $700 depending on which city he is living in. He also receives a house and a car when he is responsible for more than one temple. He gets health care from the church too. Bishops, in addition to a better salary and all of the above, are entitled to aides and cellular phones.

The Igreja Universal has been heavily criticized for the way it gets its money. The gatherings are very similar in every temple in the world. They last an average of two hours (three times a day every day of the week in some places) with half of the time dedicated to the preaching of the Bible and the other half to the collection of money.

In the New Jersey temple, for example, the minister reminds the faithful that the American government takes 30% of their paycheck. Ten percent for God, goes the argumentation, it's a real bargain. Ten percent of the gross income is what Igreja Universal asks for. During a recent worship service at headquarters, a pastor explained the reasoning behind the financial contribution, ''The more you give to the church, the more you will receive. There are many people who got a new car and bought a home after coming to the church.'' He also talked about spreading Universal's message: ''We have churches in countries all over the world, but we still need more. That's our only hope to one day destroy the devil.''

It's common for the preacher to start the bidding high in a kind of the-other-way-round auction until everybody gives his contribution. It can start with $500 going down to $5 when practically everybody approaches the bag to leave their contribution. In a recent worship service in São Paulo, the minister explained the hesitation of some in giving, ''There is war inside each one of us. God wants you to give, but the devil is there holding on to your wallet. Come, come now. Tomorrow you might be dead. If you don't pay God, you are paying the devil.''
(...)

On Fridays it's also exorcism's time. ''Come, Jesus,'' the pastor says, ''Burn the demons of prostitution, of adultery, of alcohol.'' ''Get out, get out, get out'', chant in chorus, hundreds or sometimes thousands of believers. Some are caught in trance and are helped by the obreiros. That's a good time to start the money collection.
(...)

How to explain Universal's success? ''They know better than anybody how to work in the business world. They deal with money without any feeling of guilt. For them money is something positive and very desirable,'' says Flávio Pierucci, a sociologist from Universidade de São Paulo. ''Due to their entrepreneurial vision, they are able to grow much faster than other evangelical churches.

Universal is a prodigious multinational,'' argues Paul Freston, a social scientist who has been studying the rise of the evangelical movement in Brazil. Andrew Chestnut, his American colleague, interested in the evangelical phenomenon, has a conclusion, ''the Catholic church has chosen the poor, but the poor chose the Pentecostals.''

Nobody better than Macedo has understood the meaning of one of the favorite terms of the business world nowadays, flexibilization, that is, the skill to quickly adapt to the market. While past generations of evangelicals would say, ''Christians don't get into politics'', the Universal church has created the slogan, ''Brother votes for brothers.''
[...more...]
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